Kim-Trump Summit – a Game Changer?

13 04 2018

Pivot to Asia pic(RADIO SPUTNIK, John Harrison’s PIVOT TO ASIA, 12.04.2018) The much-heralded summit between President Trump and N. Korean leader Kim Jung-un is apparently going ahead, and preparatory negotiations are already taking place. What do we know of the agenda, and how important is it for Kim Jung-un to have Russia and China’s approval of negotiation terms. Joining the program to talk about this situation is Dr Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra.

Despite the situation in Syria, Dr Petrov feels that the summit will go ahead, because negotiations between the White House, the State Department and North Korean negotiators are taking place, so there is every reason to expect that the summit will happen before or during May. The situation is serious, with the Japanese recently activating their naval units for the first time since the Second World War. “It looks like there is a multilateral preparation going on for a potential tectonic shift with China and Russia on one side, the United States, Australia and Japan on the other, and South Korea somewhere in between…”

Japan sees the likelihood of the summit yielding positive results as being quite low, indeed Japan possibly sees the summit as being little other than a delaying tactic. Dr Petrov says: “Japan believes that it is a victim of the North Korean nuclear program,…however at the same time there have even been rumors that [Japan’s] Prime Minister Abe was also interested in having a summit with Kim Jung-un…”

China is perhaps in a difficult situation because on the one hand Beijing hopes that there will be an agreement reached at the summit but on the other hand will no doubt insist that US troops do not enter North Korea, as that would mean that they will be able to position themselves along the Chinese border, something the Chinese would never agree to. Dr Petrov comments:

“China has the so called three ‘No policies’ towards the Korean peninsula. Beijing doesn’t want to see another war in Korea, it doesn’t want the Korean peninsula to be nuclear, and they don’t want the North Korean regime to collapse….N. Korea [to the Chinese] plays the very important role of a buffer state separating the militarized South Korea from China, from Russia and definitely Beijing and Moscow would be very cautious about a major change in geopolitics; that’s why they are doing everything possible to support the regime despite joining the international sanctions against North Korea….Pyongyang and Beijing signed the Mutual Friendship and Security Treaty in 1961, which is still in force and it will remain in force until 2021….Kim Jong-un has very skillfully played Beijing off against Moscow and has tried to maintain an equidistant approach; milking both Russia and China, and it looks like Kim Jong-un is going to continue this policy. This time, North Korea is at a crossroads, whether to have a major deal, an agreement with the United States or not….All eyes in Moscow and Beijing are now on North Korea. Kim Jong-un understands this, and he tries to ensure his success in negotiations by having Russia and China as allies, not as enemies.”

The United States’ major goal is clearly to see North Korea de-nuclearized, however there is also the possibility of Trump offering a grand bargain, “‘everything for everything’ which potentially may work well for Kim Jung-un who is also a maverick leader and who is prepared to go ahead with unconventional negotiating strategies,…it looks like everything is right for the summit, in terms of a potential list of topics for discussions, but the interpretations can be very different. For example, the United States talks about the denuclearization of North Korea whilst the North Koreans talk about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula…”

If the Americans can guarantee the future existence of North Korea is not clear, because, as Dr Petrov points out: “for the Americans, the alliance with South Korea and Japan is not just a symbolic thing. It’s a matter of revenue. The American military industrial complex provides [American] allies in the region with state-of-the-art military equipment, jet fighters, anti-missile systems, and without North Korea, without an aggressive, irrational, dangerous North Korea, no one would buy them.”

For the Americans, it is clearly important that Trump is able to make a deal with Kim, even if only to show that the US is still the biggest boy on the block in the region. “There could be a number of scenarios. One scenario would be that the status quo is maintained and there is no change to the Cold War structure, animosity, distrust and the arms race. For the United States, I believe this is the most preferred option. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo support the White House’s decision to negotiate with Kim Jong-un actually….They think it is likely to be just a meeting which would lead to nothing. The second scenario which would be a major breakthrough would be where Trump and Kim agree on bettering relations in principal, something verifiable, something irreversible. But denuclearization of North Korea cannot be verified, nobody would trust the North Korean leader because somewhere in the mountains there might be just one last nuclear device hidden for a rainy day. Trust must be built up and to build trust there should be more than just one handshake and a photo opportunity. Sanctions should be lifted, security assurances must be provided, there should be potential diplomatic recognition of North Korea…” Such a peace treaty would be a major step forward.

One thing is clear, Kim Jung-un needs to have Beijing and Moscow on its side before negotiations start. The North Korea foreign minister Ri Yong Ho just concluded a visit to Moscow when this program was recorded and conducted talks with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart.

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